- Posted by Cristina A-C
- On May 8, 2020
- Jimmy Burns
Thursday 24th April
When this is all over I hope many of us will make every effort to retain what we have rediscovered is important in our lives- our own fragility and the need to respect nature and fellow human beings, in love and solidarity.
Our daughter Julia brings us some bread she has baked. I feel like hugging her but we know what the guidelines still are and she leaves it by the door, and steps back. I miss hugs. I give her some lettuce and spinach Ive grown in some pots. When this is all over, I hope we will continue and strengthen these simple acts of kindness towards each other.
From family to community The evening applause for the NHS seems to draw an increasingly elaborate array of noise- from trumpets to sauce pans. Neighbours we hardly knew have become brothers and sisters in arms. So much potential for change here. Please God we don’t waste the opportunity.
Friday 25th April
To Battersea Park with daughter Miriam, keeping a ‘safe’ distance. Wildlife and human encounters as we walk along the lake. The Egyptian goslings head for the water pursued by a young child; nearby the female swan is struggling to focus on her hatching cygnets as a pointer hound off the lead moves towards her, then suddenly stops in his tracks and turns away. His master who is dressed in a shooting waistcoat reassures me the pointer is trained to heal as a good hunting dog.
The Park continues to provide a daily life line, contemplation, exercise, pure air, and an encounter full of surprises with other people and a regenerative Spring. It reminds one of the delicate thread that holds a community together, in respect of each other, in respect of nature, its light and its darkness.
Saturday 26th April
Zoom conversation with an elderly retired academic friend who has been in self-isolation since mid-March at his home in Cambridge. He has just finished rereading Brideshead Revisited and declares that it stands as one of the great novels of the 20th century, 75 years on. He poses the question- is it a gay novel as well as Catholic one?
Sunday 27t April
Try fixing up a zoom call with another vulnerable friend in isolation but at 86 he admits to being past working it all out so we opt for talking by phone instead. His memory clear as a bell as over an hour we go through eight decades of family history for a biography I am researching. He tells me that hanging on to his faith gets more difficult but necessary as he gets older. I can only think how much we owe to this fading generation, now struggling not to feel not just fragile, but beyond their sale by date, expendable.
Tuesday 28th April
I chair a BritishSpanish Society zoom panel on C19, Spain and the UK, with former UK ambassador Stephen Wright and two colleagues John Carlin and Ana Romero.
Dozens of young generation faces on my screen seemingly present but untouchable, some voices discombobulated, like ghosts. I marvel at the control invested in me by my host as he lets me pick and choose with a wave of the hand the timing and choice of interventions, and the muting of one or the other. Never have I felt closer to imitating Big Brother. And yet seeing all those faces in neat boxes facing me in the same direction, contained by the same screen for the same purpose of engagement and communication levels us, even if it is in a cold untactile way. The evening is judged a great success. Interesting panel, good engagement with the audience. I miss the uncontrolled banter and discussion, the close physical proximity of speakers and audience, the smell, sound and touch of humanity in live, clear and present discourse. But I guess this will have to do for a while yet as we all try and keep communicated as best we can.
Saturday/Sunday May 2/3
In Spain the partial lifting of the nationwide Estado de Alarma lock-down -not Estado de Emergencia with its connotations of a military clamp down- -declared by government decree and enforced by police- has scenes of clustering and abandonment reminiscent of popular marathons and Cycling Tours and village fiestas as the population take to the streets, to enjoy the kind of engagement with nature and exercise that a majority of the British population have already experienced under their more belated and flexi- lockdown.
The crowds and the clusters seem almost revolutionary in their exuberance, seemingly exposing the fallacy that somehow staggering times and age groups, after an extended period of repression , can keep things under control in the town and big cities. It’s the oldest lesson in human history , and Spaniards know it well, that once you’ve tasted freedom, you want more. Less clear is who stands to have their own life sacrificed from here on, and in what way.
Monday May 4
I meet up with my teacher friend in the park, Emma. She is rolling herself on her wheel chair, accompanied by her inseparable dog. It seems we have the whole Park to ourselves. We talk under a blue sky, breathing London air purer than at any time we can remember, surrounded by trees that sway in the wind, their young leaves dappled in the sunlight. If there is God’s Grandeur this is and we are part of it. I feel humbled by Emma’s warm smile which seems to give no hint of the darkness she has gone through since being paralysed from the lower back downwards following a car accident twenty years previously when she was a child.
But soon she is talking to me not about herself, but about how worried she is about the fate of the underprivileged and special needs children who are suffering mental health issues while living in cramped accommodation, and without access to regular school. “I fear that some of them are losing their resilience and won’t recover it, I fear that when when this is over, the divide in our society is going to be even wider that before,”she tells me.
Thursday May 7
Yesterday two very different scenes took place in the socially distanced and virtual British and Spanish parliaments. In the House of Commons Boris Johnson seemed to have recovered the shaggy locks and muscular arm waving, but his voice, as my speech and language therapist wife pointed out, seemed to lack its pre virus strength, his words and his performance all together far more subdued and apologetic than I can remember.
The new Labour leader Keir Starmer, the very image of rectitude in suit and cut, neither shouted nor gesticulated, nor indeed displayed any kind of charisma, but nonetheless managed to score some necessary if controversial points as the lawyer that he is. Recalling that Boris had talked not so long ago of the widely recognised success the NHS had shown in fighting corona virus, he challenged the PM to explain why the UK had the worst death toll in Europe from C19.The figures were indeed “appalling” conceded Boris-an honesty, or even humility, that would have been unheard of at the height of the Brexit campaign.
And yet while it was not exactly love and peace in the House of Commons it certainly was rather more respectful, almost consensual, compared to the verbal rerun of the run up to the Civil War in the Spanish Cortes, as prime-minister Pedro Sanchez found getting majority approval for an extension of his lock-down plans no easy thing , almost the the equivalent of extracting blood out of the Rock of Gibraltar.
The main opposition party abstained after its leaders made a visceral attack on Sanchez and his coalition ‘Marxist- Leninist ‘ Podemos partners, calling the prime-minister an absolutist, and accusing him of taking the country into chaos. The Catalans pro-independence parties voted against. Less of a surprise there.
Sanchez got enough votes thanks to a last minute out of sight negotiations, and the ensuing tactical votes from the small centre-right party Ciudadanos and the Basque national party PNV who will no doubt call in favours when it comes to dealing with the major economic crisis that he country is also facing. The extreme right-wing populist Vox meanwhile is agitating to bring down the government with a motion of no confidence.
As the expert on modern Spanish history Professor Paul Preston reminds us in his new book, the Spanish people have all too often been betrayed by their politicians, and right now some party leaders seem to be putting narrow ideological prejudices before the national interest.
Friday May 8th
Today it’s Bank Holiday in the UK I am told. More than a touch of irony in the term when the Bank of England chief is warning that we are heading for the biggest recession any of us can remember. I don’t envy the task of our politicians as they manoeuvre the turbulent waters ahead. One can only hope the enlightened and brave will grab the opportunity to build a broad consensus around transformative policies that contribute to peace, social justice, human rights, and global sustainability.
VE day will be remembered by millions of Brits and not a few continental Europeans, Americans and Russians.
During the lockdown UK memories of WW2 have continued to feed into the national narrative, mythologising the island people than endured and prevailed, without being forced to do so by a repressive hand.
But as the BBC s reminds us on its website, VE Day on May 8th 1945 “was also a moment of great sadness and reflection, as millions of people had lost their lives or loved ones in the conflict…. Many had to continue fighting in other battles and lots of people were being kept as prisoners of war abroad.”
In his VE Day announcement, Winston Churchill said: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.”
I wonder how much Boris Johnson reflects on the fact that his idol Churchill was voted out by an electorate who felt he could not deliver what was needed once the war was over. But for now, Boris is what we’ve got.